On our excursion to Germany, we spent two leisurely days in a picturesque little town called Rothenburg ob der Tauber. While strolling up and down the narrow streets, we noticed a particular pastry peering back at us from behind the glass at several bakeries: schneebällen, or snowballs.
The recipe for schneebällen has been around for at least 300 years. They consist of a shortcrust pastry, traditionally dusted with confectioners sugar. Back in the day, people only made them for special occasions, like weddings.
Now I will admit, I had read several websites referring to these infamous round balls of dough in advance of our trip. But I wasn’t expecting to see them in so many variations, flavours, and sizes. They were everywhere. It wasn’t long before I decided, against the recommendations of many visitors who came before, to purchase a few of these sweets in order to make my own judgement. The displays were beautiful, making them impossible to resist:
You see that medieval torture device hanging above the display? That’s what bakers use to form the schneebällen. The dough is layered back and forth over a stick or wooden spoon, then pressed into the metal melon-baller-like device (a Schneeballeneisen) and deep fried. Sounds promising, doesn’t it?
When we went into one of the little bakeries to purchase a few schneebällen, I decided to buy three different flavours; vanilla, chocolate and lemon.
The first sign that perhaps these weren’t going to be the taste sensation I was hoping for, was when the cashier advised, “don’t worry if you can’t finish them right away. They will last for about two months.”
This usually isn’t the sort of recommendation that goes along with high-quality, delectable, fresh pastries. But still, I had to give them a go. So my husband and I made our purchase, walked out of the store and immediately opened the bag. I took the first bite, trying the lemon schneeball first.
My initial impression was correct. This wasn’t going to be the sort of thing I would ever develop a craving for.
The dough is very comparable to pie crust. It’s flaky, dry, and somewhat flavourless. Bakers typically dip the balls into various flavour coatings to make them more palatable (confectioner’s sugar, chocolate, coconut flakes, etc). But sadly, the coatings don’t make up for the center. Mark took one bite, shuddered, and handed it back to me. “I’m done,” he announced with a grimace.
I carted the two remaining schneebällen around in a tupperware container for the remainder of our vacation. I finally ate the chocolate-dipped ball one morning in Prague because I was hungry. But the vanilla schneebäll made the journey all the way back home to Edmonton. Unfortunately, it was only then that I finally decided neither one of us was keen on finishing it. I did, however slice one open to show the intricate folding of the dough inside:
I suppose that 300 years ago people would have considered these folded dough-balls special. But now there are so many options for pastries and sweets that I would have to recommend avoiding these and ordering just about anything else. But if you are curious, just order one to start. A very small one. And let me know what you think!